B.C. Crown stays death-related criminal prosecution of Weyerhaeuser

Prosecution says limited likelihood of conviction, union vows to continue prosecution
|labour-reporter.com|Last Updated: 08/26/2011

The B.C. Criminal Branch will not proceed with the United Steelworkers-initiated prosecution of Weyerhaeuser over the seven-year old death of a British Columbia sawmill worker.

The evidence against Weyerhaeuser — one of the largest pulp and paper producers in the world — does not provide “a substantial likelihood of conviction against the company,” according to a statement released by the Branch outlining the reasons for the stay.

The United Steelworkers (USW) Union is condemning the decision, saying that justice has not been served against a criminally negligent company.

"Had the Crown proceeded with the case, the court would have heard that there was a clear breach of the duty of care imposed on an employer under Section 217.1 of the Criminal Code," said USW western Canada director Stephen Hunt.

On Nov. 17, 2004, Lyle Hewer entered a machine that funnels wood waste through a chute into a grinding mechanism. A frequent occurrence, the machine had become blocked with waste, so Hewer climbed inside to free the jam. When the debris was dislodged, it fell on Hewer and suffocated him.

New Westminster, B.C. police recommended charges be laid against Weyerhaeuser and, in 2007, WorkSafeBC fined Weyerhaeuser $297,000. WorkSafeBC, the province’s government agency overlooking safety in the workplace, said mill management ignored safety concerns and condoned a culture where "complacency in the face of danger became the norm."

In March 2010, the United Steelworkers made their case for a private prosecution of Weyerhaeuser. However, on Aug 24, 2011, the Steelworkers learned of the Crown's decision not to move forward with the case. This is the third time the Crown has declined to prosecute Weyerhaeuser.

"It just doesn't make sense," said Hunt. “When workers die, it is only fair that the Criminal Code be enforced.”

The union is vowing to continue prosecution.

"Obviously, this is not the end of our campaign," USW national director Ken Neumann said. "We will have to lobby the federal government to ensure Criminal Code provisions are adequate to ensure workers receive justice.”

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